In January of 1969 the Santa Barbara Channel was the site of an oil well blowout that still ranks today as the third-largest oil spill in U.S. waters, after the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson went to Santa Barbara to see what happened when an estimated 100,000 gallons of crude oil washed up on the coast of California killing sea life and birds, and destroying the shoreline. His anger at the environmental damage from off-shore oil drilling led Senator Nelson, along with activists Dennis Hayes and John Gardner, to found the first Earth Day in 1970.
Earth Day launched a national environmental movement that quickly achieved significant regulatory and policy goals. By December of 1970, President Nixon was calling for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The long hard work of so many environmental heroes like Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, was taking hold. Teach-ins were happening at campuses across the country. A new generation was defining environmentalism.
As Earth Day 2012 approaches, we are left looking back at a 40-year battle to protect the earth from corporate pillage and abuse. Major off-shore oil spills have occurred every 20 years since then, with the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and Deepwater Horizon in 2010. A National Geographic map of oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico shows a mass of red dots that looks like an open wound; there are literally thousands of wells in the Gulf.
Today, even as the world celebrates World Water Day, some countries at the United Nations are trying to remove the reference to the “right to water” from a document that will guide the international development path in the coming decade.
It was less than two years ago, in the summer of 2010, that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution recognizing water as a human right. This was followed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopting a resolution on “human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” which made these rights legally binding. The recognition of the right to water at these U.N. bodies, and the developments since, such as the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on right to water and the resolution by the World Health Assembly recognizing right to water, have helped place water rights on the global agenda.
These successes were partly the result of collective efforts of water justice activists over the last 10 years. IATP's own advocacy on right to water was a direct response to the reference to water as a “need” [instead of a right], in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2nd World Water Forum in 2000.
Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear arguments to expand the federal crop insurance program in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most likely, proponents of this expansion will point to the devastating crop losses wrought by extreme weather last year. Indemnity payouts for 2011 have so far cost taxpayers a record $10 billion, a number expected to grow as claims are processed.
Crop insurance proponents are right: Farming is getting riskier all the time. Last year we saw more extreme storms, more record heat, more droughts and more floods than in almost any previous year. According to climatologists, it’s a pattern that’s only going to get worse as the effects of climate change grow. Right now, our federal crop insurance program only protects farmers from being wiped out financially from extreme weather. Farmers need that protection, but the rest of us—the eaters—also need a secure, reliable food system.
There are ways to make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather. Farmers can plant more perennial crops, which require less water and hold on better to soil during floods. In drought-prone regions, they can select drought-tolerant crop varieties or change grazing or irrigation methods, among other strategies. Farming techniques that protect and enhance the soil, and use less water and energy, are those that stand the best chance of holding on when the weather turns bad.
I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.
On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.
Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.
The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).
IATP has submitted three short papers in response to requests for comment from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The papers concern three issues: 1) what work the UNFCCC’s Substantive Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) should undertake on agriculture and climate change; 2) “various approaches,” including the use of carbon emissions credit trading, to finance projects to reduce greenhouse gases; 3) the definition of a New Market Mechanism that would include carbon trading but also provide more accounting flexibility for developed country Parties to meet their GHG emissions reduction targets. These papers and many others will discussed by government delegates during workshops at the UNFCCC negotiations, May 14–25, in Bonn, Germany.
It’s all too easy, especially in the United States, to take water access for granted—turn on the tap, and fill up a glass—but across the world, lines are being drawn as governments and financially interested multi-national corporations ask the same question: Who will control the world’s water and how will it be allocated? India’s draft national water policy, released in January, is the latest example of a policy that, if passed as currently written, will continue to marginalize small-scale farmers and low-income communities, ultimately failing to reinforce water as a fundamental human right.
In a new report, IATP’s Shiney Varghese analyzes India’s draft policy and why, even though at first glance “it appears […] a holistic approach,” it comes up short—both in protecting people and the environment—and may set a dangerous precedent for water management worldwide. The People’s Campaign for the Right to Water has organized an e-petition, opposing “the very concept of water as an economic good” and India’s draft national water policy.
Read the new IATP paper, Corporatizing Water: India's Draft National Water Policy, for more, or see Shiney Varghese’s recent op-ed, “Turning off the tap on water as a human right” in India’s national daily, The Hindu. Take action by signing the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water e-petition.
The chief U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, explained to the delegates at the Conference of Parties (COP) at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that the United States sought “legal symmetry” among all parties. The New York Times dutifully reported the U.S. position, together with the U.S. view that China and India were blocking the “modernization” of the UNFCCC by not agreeing to assume the same obligations as developed countries in the new “legal framework” (in the U.S. phrasing), in effect would replace the UNFCCC and its foundational principles. The U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Changte, Todd Stern, said that the U.S. was fully satisfied with the outcome of the “Durban Platform” and implicitly with the replacement of the UNFCCC’s foundational principles with the U.S. principle of “legal symmetry.”
There is little doubt that agriculture is both affected by and directly affects climate change. Exactly how to address agriculture within the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UFCCC), however, is not easy to answer. Before Durban, negotiating text had been circulating since before the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, virtually unchanged for two years.
How could agriculture be so controversial, one might wonder? One of the main sticking points for agreement over the agriculture text was the legal context in which negotiations were set. Agriculture was being considered under a mitigation workstream in the Bali Action Plan called “Cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions.” The framing constraints imposed on the negotiations by a mitigation context made many countries unhappy. Most developing countries, for example, are much more concerned about impacts of climate change on agricultural production and adaptation challenges, and felt no need to agree on how to cooperate on mitigation within the sector. The two weeks of negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 were taken up convincing developed countries to insert language on adaptation, food security and small farmers, but in the end no agreement on the complete text was reached.
Paragraphs on trade were also inserted at that time, insisting that nothing agreed to in those talks could be used to create barriers to international trade. This proved the most important issue blocking progress on the agriculture text in these intervening two years, including at negotiations in Cancún in December 2010. Countries such as Argentina and Brazil were adamant that no text would go ahead without those paragraphs; New Zealand, the United States and other developed countries insisted against them. Cancún ended as it began, in deadlock over an essentially unchanged text.
The COP17 climate talks are wrapping up and IATP staff are on their way home from Durban, South Africa. Throughout the 10-day summit, IATP met with media representatives, delegates and NGO partners on a range of issues related to agriculture and climate change. We’ve prepared a summary of press coverage from Durban and a compilation of materials that the IATP team produced during the summit. A post-conference report will be available as soon as staff have returned.
Doreen Stabinsky is blogging for IATP from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
One of the major issues being considered here at COP17 is adaptation.
Adaptation is the term used for any type of effort taken to adapt systems to changing climates. In agriculture, adaptation could mean building irrigation systems, improving soil water–holding capacity by adding manures or compost, or reducing post-harvest losses, which in turn could reduce the vulnerability of communities to climate impacts.
In the context of climate change negotiations, adaptation gets lost in the morass of acronyms and institutional mechanisms. At this particular meeting, developing country frustration with inaction and a lack of sufficient funding permeated the multiple agenda items dealing with adaptation: the Nairobi work program review, discussion of modalities and guidelines for development of National Adaptation Plans, a work program on loss and damage, the establishment of an Adaptation Committee, and the Adaptation Fund.
Agriculture enters specifically into the negotiations primarily as a sector, with an equal or lesser status with water, coastal and marine ecosystems, mountain ecosystems and forests, among others. That adaptation in agricultural systems could have such contested priority, given the centrality of the sector to the livelihoods of so many, is a bit hard to understand. But given the paucity of resources to go around, developing countries squabble over what little there is, and in the adaptation debate that squabbling manifests itself in contests over whose pet sector will be prioritized this year. This year, water has won, at least in the debate over the next phase of work in the Nairobi work program.